It went on, and on, and on. The dimensional workspace didn’t have an end as far as she could see, and each station posted along the assembly line was responsible for a different aspect. They worked on different worlds each day in a very literal sense, though sometimes the same worlds were brought back through now and again in order to fix or alter something that had gone wrong, or had been seen to be less than efficient. The inhabitants of each world were none the wiser each time they were brought back for further testing and analysis, since the reality they were allowed to see didn’t often allow them to peer beyond the paper-thin veil that separated them from this place.
They were well-cared for, that was all that mattered, and when the specs were changed, their world would change. It was often something small, but there were moments that were cataclysmic in nature, big changes that created several smaller changes along a period of time that, to the inhabitants of each world, lasted a lifetime, but was far less when it came to the factory clock, which dictated just how long each process was supposed to take. With a gesture she could collapse the entire assembly chain of realities that stretched along the assembly belt, their faint, glowing forms sitting unaware of what was being done to them, as could anyone she worked with. But the rule was pretty simple, you didn’t collapse anything unless there was a major meltdown in progress that needed addressing and was a threat to the entire system.
She’d heard stories from a few people in the Logistics department about some of the worlds simply breaking down system by system until the world was little more than a sterile ball that could no longer sustain life. It had also been said that some worlds had seen to their own destruction by pushing things to a threshold that they couldn’t take. There had been measures set in place to ensure that such a thing didn’t happen, but they didn’t always work. Somehow, the worlds that were truly bent on self-destruction found a way to make such things happen. Thankfully the containment of such powerful energies was handled by an automated system that was able to absorb the majority of it, but it resulted in the utter destruction of the world in question.
In such a case this mean that an entirely new world needed to be fabricated, processed, and then fit into the rotation, which could cause setbacks that often caused several nearby worlds to experience various difficulties. In a sense, a world that destroyed itself managed to become an inconvenience to several other worlds in the process, since the expenditure of energy was often enough to cause a sympathetic response in those worlds that were stationed within the vicinity, forcing them to adapt to the sudden wash of energy or begin to collapse as a result. More often than not, she and her fellow technicians were on hand and could stop this process, or at least alleviate it long enough to bring in an engineer that could fix any problems that they weren’t qualified for.
It was an endless job, and one that she hadn’t fully understood before taking it. When she had responded to an ad in the newspaper she’d thought it would be a piece of cake, another manufacturing position that would pay decent wages, offer great benefits, and allow her to meet other people like herself. She’d been right thankfully, but she hadn’t been given a hint as to what the work would entail until her first day on the factory floor. At first she’d thought it was a fancy hologram device that was being manufactured, something that would be featured as an interactive toy for kids, or perhaps a classroom aid. It hadn’t been until the first world had perished that she’d come to fully understand the gravity of what they were doing here.
She’d nearly lost everything that day, including her sanity.
Watching a world die in a movie, or even reading about in a book, felt tragic enough since it was the end of something, a representation of what many people thought was one of the worst possible things that could ever happen. But having to watch it happen in real life, in real time, was absolutely surreal. She had only been on the job for about a month, and she hadn’t yet fully wrapped her head around the idea that she and many others were working on actual worlds, spheres of existence that housed untold billions of sentient beings. Trying to get it through her head that she was one of the many technicians working on different realities that existed for the same world, of which hers was one of them, had left her breathless when she’d been given an in-depth view at one of the model worlds that had come from the assembly line during orientation.
Plenty of movies and TV shows had hinted at this type of manufacturing when it came to existence, but to see that it was real, that there were untold numbers of worlds that existed, had been as close to overwhelming as she’d ever experienced. She’d even been told that the earth line was only one of many. There were other lines in the factory apparently, and there were plenty of people that worked on these as well, but earth was a priority since within their solar system it was the only planet that anyone could figure had shown any consistent sign of life. She’d heard it said that from time to time the other worlds were seen to develop anomalies, species that could exist but remain undetected, or were taken as little more than attractions for the other worlds to notice if they had the inclination. It was a confusing bit of work really, trying to figure out how each and every world would interact with another, but that wasn’t her job thankfully, she wasn’t an engineer.
She was a valued technician, and was in line to become a supervisor at one point. But that one time, the one time she could remember that she’d broken down and cried, it had almost been the end of her.
The worlds weren’t perfect as it had been mentioned to all of them during orientation and during team meetings that were held every so often. Each sphere of existence was designed to run according to what had been programmed, but as she’d learned, that program could be skewed in a number of different ways and very few worlds were ever one hundred percent identical. The only problem was that sometimes the programming, which was expected to take on a life of its own, managed to fail so spectacularly that containing the resultant meltdown wasn’t possible before an engineer could be found. With an abundance of worlds and programs to write, check, and issues to take care of, and a finite number of engineers, there were times when such problems couldn’t be fixed in the nick of time.
On this particular day the world in question had been floated down the assembly line along with all the others, being monitored by the continual banks of projectors and host of systems that were in charge of maintaining the perception that each world floated within its own blackened void among the stars. The projectors were linked to other rooms within the various levels of the factory, which numbered roughly two dozen in all. Everything from janitorial to research and development and CEO spaces were accounted for, and as of now she’d made the Earth Fab her place within the last several years. She’d had an offer to move on to the Neptune Fab nearly a year back, but she’d decided to stick around and see how many improvements she could help with in this location. Plus, the Earth Fab was where most things tended to happen.
The world in question had already been flagged by the time it had reached her station, where she had been tasked with resolving a few minor natural disasters and finding a way to end a few unruly disputes that had destroyed much the world’s forest areas across the North American continent, but what had happened before she was able to begin on the first wildfire she’d seen had knocked her back nearly a foot and had forced her to watch the inevitable crumbling of a world. Later on it was decided that the incident was not her fault since according to factory records the world should have been taken off the line long before it ever reached her. But that hadn’t helped her mindset any.
At that point in time she’d heard about worlds failing, had seen the effect in the training video, and had heard that it was awful. That wasn’t even half as bad as actually being there when it happened. Had she not recovered from her shock as quickly as she had then two other worlds would have suffered just as much, and would have been needlessly lost. But the screaming she’d heard, the tortured rending of a planet tearing itself apart from the inside, and the sight of so many being snuffed out in such a quick and decisive manner, had scarred her in a very profound manner.
She’d watched as the world had cracked like an egg, the fissures that had opened up widening and then breaking the world apart, causing such an outcry of pain and suffering that had she not seen the effect on the worlds in front and behind the affected planet she might not have acted so quickly. Instead she had slammed the palm of her hand down on the emergency containment button as quickly as she could, dropping the metal plates that were suspended above the line and were there for just such a purpose. Shielded from view, the imploding world had gone silent behind the metal covering, until finally the engineers and the clean-up crew had come to relieve her for a time.
The higher-ups had done a full psych eval on her and a few others that had been in the vicinity of the incident, and had determined that it was necessary to send them home with pay for a week. When asked whether or not she would know if their world would ever be at risk, she’d been reminded that the factory, this place, was quite literally removed from the world she knew, and that should their world come to risk, the factory and its people could and would be relocated if necessary. It had been a cold and rather unfeeling answer to her ears, especially since it meant that she and her fellow workers weren’t exactly expendable, but the worlds they’d likely come from were. Maybe she was way off base, but the feeling that the factory didn’t care that much about the worlds it dealt with had persisted ever since.
She’d mentioned this to the in-house psychiatrist that she’d been required to visit at least once a week since the incident, and the individual had told her in no uncertain terms that the average worker had at least a few qualms now and then about the state of the worlds they worked on.
“No one knows what you’re doing, and it’s better that way,” the psychiatrist had stated, “Normally a good line of communication is key, but in this instance that communication is best kept within the factory, between its people, and nowhere else. The NDA that you signed, that I signed, that everyone signs before working here, isn’t to keep the world safe from the knowledge of what goes on here, it’s to keep us safe from anyone that might want to take us seriously.”
“But every world is expendable,” she’d replied, “And from what I’ve heard, several people from the fabs have had to relocate at least once.”
“I have too,” the psychiatrist had said, “When my world went down mid-shift, I had to hole up here for a while with several of our co-workers until it was possible to find us another place where we could slip in unnoticed.”
“But what about the people you leave behind?”
The psychiatrist had sat back at that time and nodded her head, the auburn color of her hair catching the light in a way that had illuminated it somehow, which had gained her attention for a few passing seconds.
“Those that we leave behind are still there, in the other worlds,” she’d replied, “though obviously not as we left them. Sometimes we don’t get to know them again, and other times we’re still connected to them, but in very different ways. There are those within the factory that have been unable to cope with this loss, while others have moved on and found a way to continue onward. It’s a difficult transition to be certain, but in our line of work it’s a conditional hazard that we come to understand, and have to deal with. Are you worried about anyone in this current sphere of existence that we call home?”
“No,” she’d replied, shaking her head, “I grew up in the foster care system and haven’t formed a lot of long-lasting friendships. Those I have are pretty much conditional. I don’t have any real family and the people I’m friendly with could possibly get by without seeing me every day.”
“Are you thinking of finding someone? The factory does allow for spousal or significant other protection, but it comes with a very steep price.”
“That just sounds so cold,” she’d replied.
“Yes, to most people it does,” the psychiatrist countered, “Which is why there’s been a fair amount of turnover throughout the years. People with families aren’t discouraged from this place, but they’re carefully screened and, if it can be arranged, they’re generally not hired. Some might call it discrimination, but anyone trying to file a lawsuit against the factory has, to date, forgotten just where we’re located, meaning that any such lawsuit never happens since the claims of those trying to make their case can’t be substantiated without a physical location that others can see and verify.”
“It just feels like we’re detached from our humanity.”
The psychiatrist had nodded, “It does, I agree. But it’s a necessity for this job. It’s possible to still experience humanity and all it has to offer us, but there’s a reason behind staying apart from it as much as we can.”
“We’re caretakers,” she’d said, closing her eyes as she had remembered her orientation once again. Each one of those working the factory had been told that they were there to ensure the survival of their species, and to uphold the balance of the solar system they called home. It wasn’t a perfect system, as had been mentioned in the orientation, but it was what they had.
They were caretakers, protecting and trying to care for a system that had no idea the task they’d accepted by choice. By the end of that particular session she’d felt numb, not better. But these days it was about as good as things could get on average. She had come to value her job, it paid the bills in the world where she and the others reside for now at least, and it paid well. The secret they all kept was still safe, even though some folks had attempted to spill the beans a couple of times. The psychiatrist was correct at least, those that tried to tell the truth about this place were regarded as kooks, especially since the factory wasn’t located anywhere people could find it, no matter that this defied the laws of physics that people had come to value over the years.
Their job didn’t need to be highlighted, or shared with the world, as the many different versions of the world continuing to exist was their reward, and the only recognition they needed.
They were caretakers after all, it came with the job.